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Classical Review: Romantic Composers Smile on BSO

Accessible Repertoire Celebrates Beauty of Classical Music

By Tony Hwang

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Jeus Georg Bachmann, conductor

Andreas Haefliger, piano

Symphony Hall, Boston

Saturday, Oct. 15, 2005

What better way to spend a cold and dreary night than relaxing indoors, listening to heartwarming music? Many seemed to agree, as Symphony Hall was packed for Saturday’s concert. The evening’s program consisted of purely Romantic repertoire: nothing contemporary to challenge the audience’s musical taste, but rather a fine display of lyricism that caused listeners to sigh with contentment.

Assistant Conductor Bachmann strode upon the stage with a smile, opening the program with Weber’s Overture to “Oberon.” The piece begins with a seamless interweaving of melodies between violins and a French horn soloist. Perfectly capturing a mood of quiet expressiveness, the musicians were able to grip the attention of the audience from the start.

As the music progressed, string sections were showcased, each group maintaining the emotional intensity. However, the calm was shattered as Bachmann led the BSO into a section of contrasting excitement. Throughout the Overture, there were instances when the tone would flip between peaceful and exhilarating.

Bachmann held the reins skillfully, waving fluidly or strictly denoting tempos depending on the situation at hand. His deep understanding of the music was apparent, and as further evidence of his dedication, he conducted the entire program from memory. The orchestra held its own as well, on the same wavelength as its conductor, while still allowing its players to show their personal touches. The rousing conclusion of the piece was greeted with great applause, and after it died down the stage was reset for the piano concerto.

With everything back in order, Andreas Haefliger emerged to tackle Schumann’s “Piano Concerto in A minor.” Haefliger is an experienced pianist who comes from a musical family and has performed with orchestras worldwide. He has received praise especially for his graceful interpretations of Classical and Romantic music, and thus his choice of Schumann came as no surprise. Launching into the first movement with flamboyant body language, Haefliger made it clear to the audience that he was planning to put on a great show. He continued throughout with great technical precision and clean playing.

While for the most part his phrasing was logical, at times it became almost predictable and slightly repetitive. The orchestra overpowered the soloist at times, most likely one of the balance issues for which the piece is infamous, but the effect may simply have been a product of the acoustics of the hall. All shortcomings aside, Haefliger still successfully created an atmosphere of eloquence coupled with virtuosity, and the audience’s standing ovation was evidence that his style was well-received.

Mendelssohn’s “Symphony No. 3 in A minor” was a fitting conclusion to this Romantic concert, as Mendelssohn was one of the era’s most talented and unique composers. One interesting aspect of this particular symphony is that its four movements are to be played contiguously without pause; although each movement has a singular quality, it also is directly related in melodic shape to the others. Structure aside, the symphony is vintage Mendelssohn, full of exquisite melody lines and rich chordal harmonies. While the previous two pieces did not allow the winds and brass to shine much other than through solos, this symphony gave them full release as a section, and the result was a glorious sound that permeated the concert hall to the last row.

The BSO was quite content to play a concert devoid of modern repertoire. The members of the orchestra were not given an easy task (especially the strings, who had many challenging and exposed passages), but they seized the music with gusto. While many contemporary composers are pushing the limits of musical acceptability, it is satisfying (and necessary) for us to return to the foundations of orchestral music and celebrate their timeless quality. From the smiles and complimentary remarks heard through the post-concert murmur, it seemed like those in attendance couldn’t agree more.